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Congressman Donald Payne succumbs to cancer

GLENN TOWNES Special to the AmNews | 3/7/2012, 11:31 a.m.
Long time New Jersey politician Donald Payne died on Tuesday morning following a bout with...
Congressman Donald Payne succumbs to cancer

Long time New Jersey politician Donald Payne died on Tuesday morning following

a bout with colon cancer, family members announced Tuesday at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J.

Payne was New Jersey's first African American congressman and served for more than two decades as a key politico for the Garden State. He was 77 years old.

According to a family spokesman, Payne died from complications from an aggressive form of colon cancer. On Friday, members of the House of Representatives announced that despite undergoing treatment for the disease, Payne would continue to represent his district. However, he was transported from a Washington DC hospital back to New Jersey on Friday, after his condition and prognosis worsened.

Payne represented the 10th district of northern New Jersey for 23 years. Cities in his district included the mostly African American Newark, Jersey City, East Orange and Maplewood, among others. Known for having a laid-back and unperturbed demeanor, he was instrumental in bringing a number of key issues and pieces of legislation to the national forefront--most notably in the areas of health, education and foreign affairs.

"Congressman Donald Payne Sr., lived a life of unyielding service to others," Newark Mayor Cory Booker said in a statement. "{He} was a defender of and advocate for the rights, liberties, equal opportunities and dignity of all people. We mourn the loss of one of Newark's greatest trailblazing leaders, and yet in this time of pain and grief, we also celebrate our humble hero, who lived an extraordinary life of contribution and distinction."

In a statement released to the media on Tuesday, New Jersey Gov., Chris Christie said, "Mr. Payne was a great role model for every person in New Jersey who aspires to public service. He was a true gentleman."

Born in Newark, Donald Payne Sr. graduated from Baringer High School. He earned a degree from Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ. Payne was employed as an executive at Prudential Financial and was also an educator in the Newark Public Schools (NPS). Additionally, he was the first African American president of the National Council of YMCA's. His political career began in 1972 when he was elected to the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, a post he held for three terms. In 1982, he was elected to the Newark Municipal Council and also served three terms. He is a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. He was elected to Congress in January 1989 and was a vocal member of the House committees on education and foreign affairs. He also served as chairman of the House subcommittee on Africa. Payne made international headlines in April 2009 after Somali fighters launched a mortar attack at an airport in Mogadishu, Somalia where a plane carrying Payne and other dignitaries had just departed for Kenya. Payne was uninjured during the attack. Payne was a widower, and is survived by three children, four grandchildren and one great grandchild.